(405) 425-5070
Civil rights attorney Fred Gray speaks at Oklahoma Christian University in 2015.
Dialogue
Civil rights attorney Fred Gray speaks at Oklahoma Christian University in 2015. | Photo by Oklahoma Christian University

Fred Gray on injustice and his hope for the church

Followers of Christ must realize that their Black brethren are still suffering, says Fred Gray.

‘Where were Churches of Christ during the Civil Rights Movement?” 

Whenever Jerry Taylor hears the question, “my response is that they were front and center primarily represented in the person of Dr. Fred Gray,” he said.

Fred Gray

Fred Gray

Gray, who served as an attorney for Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, grew up in the Holt Street Church of Christ in Montgomery, Ala. At age 12 he moved to Tennessee to attend Nashville Christian Institute, an African-American boarding school operated by members of Churches of Christ. 

“This stalwart defender of justice is a national treasure who stands tall in the Civil Rights Movement as well as among Churches of Christ as the spiritual embodiment of integrity, intelligence, eloquence, courage, wisdom, truth and humility,” said Taylor, founding director of the Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action at Abilene Christian University in Texas.

Gray’s cases frequently set precedent. Browder vs. Gayle integrated buses in Montgomery in 1956. Gray took NAACP vs. State of Alabama to the U.S. Supreme Court, winning the right of the NAACP to do business in the state.

Wes Crawford, author of “Shattering the Illusion: How African American Churches of Christ Moved from Segregation to Independence,” said: “Fred Gray pursued justice with as much passion and ability as any other figure in American history. He is an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Now 89, Gray still preaches whenever possible and served as an elder of a Church of Christ in Tuskegee, Ala. Amid the national conversation on race sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, Gray talked to The Christian Chronicle about faith, justice and his dream for Churches of Christ.


What can you tell us about the thinking of African American churches in our present climate? 

I can’t tell you because some of them may think one way, and some may think another way. Even when I go to visit sometime, I wonder if this is a Church of Christ where I am sitting. So there may be some differences of opinion.

African Americans have suffered so much from slavery until now and are still suffering. If White churches don’t realize that and if they can’t believe there is something wrong, then I think there is something wrong with their Christianity.

African Americans have suffered so much from slavery until now and are still suffering. If White churches don’t realize that and if they can’t believe there is something wrong, then I think there is something wrong with their Christianity. 

Racism is contrary to what Jesus taught. We need to stop it and correct it. The same is true about inequality on the basis of whether it is health care, employment, housing, education or criminal and social justice.  

Whites have a much greater opportunity to develop than Blacks. We need to do something about narrowing that gap. The struggle for equal justice continues, and that responsibility is upon all of us as members of the Lord’s church.

We appreciate what you are doing and what The Christian Chronicle is doing. I want you to know that there are some White Christians who are members of the Church of Christ, and some White Church of Christ-related schools that are doing things to help end inequality and racism.  

What do non-Black Christians fail to understand about the injustice that Black Christians feel and have experienced? 

No. 1, there ought not to be Black Christians and non-Black Christians. If we all did what Christ said, we would all look at each other and see each other as Christians and do as Jesus taught us on the Sermon on the Mount: “Do unto others as you have would have them do unto you.”  

For me as a non-White person to say what a White Christian feels would not be objective. I can understand and I can tell you what I think about injustice and anything about it, but it is hard for me to say what a White person feels about injustices or what blacks may feel.

What are your thoughts on injustice? 

Oh, well, I can tell that! To make a long story short, I saw injustices being done then, and I thought that somebody needed to be doing something about it. I thought Black people had problems in Montgomery, and I decided I wanted to help solve those problems. I made a commitment as a teenager that I was going to become a lawyer.   

Less than six months after passing the Alabama bar, I had my first civil rights case, the case of Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old Black girl who did what Mrs. Parks did, but did it nine months prior. 

But I didn’t stop preaching.

Have Christians made any progress since those days? 

If we as Christians do what the Lord tells us to do, then those persons who do not practice equality and justice for all will know that they are wrong.

If we as Christians do what the Lord tells us to do, then those persons who do not practice equality and justice for all will know that they are wrong. They need to repent and do what they can to help solve the problems that still confront us. 

I think that is true of Whites, and I think that is true of Blacks, and I think that is what the Christian and what the Lord taught us in the example that he lived for us, doing his personal ministry here on earth.

What is your dream for all Churches of Christ? 

Christ’s word has not changed since it was recorded by inspired men of God who wrote them as directed by the Holy Spirit.  

When I look to that first Pentecost following the resurrection, as recorded in Acts 2, and what it took to become a Christian that day, I believe it takes the same thing today to become a member of the church. 

My vision is for the church to continue to be the church established by Christ, to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent.

As an Amazon Associate, we may earn money from qualifying purchases made through the links on this page.

Filed under: African American churches Camden Church of Christ Church of Christ Civil Rights attorney Dialogue Features Fred Gray injustice racism Top Stories

View Comments

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

$
Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time